Could a Sri Lankan Top the UK Charts?

For the last few months, a South Korean has been the talk of the British music scene, but could the UK’s next big pop sensation come from Sri Lanka?

Well, considering Shehan Noel’s debut ‘Girls to my Right’ has peaked at one million hits on youtube in just two months, it’s not out of the question.  Shehan Noel is not your archetypal pop-star. For starters, he’s done it all the old fashioned way. Shehan is self-trained, not just in  his singing and dancing, but also in music production, and, although he has found fame and a super-successful career in Sri Lanka, he has left it all behind to start from scratch once again in the UK. Shehan is, in a word, different.

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He’s a self-proclaimed perfectionist, and puts long hours into his work. He lives for the love of music, and aspires to leave behind a Shehan Noel legacy. And become a multi-millionaire on the way. His debut track ‘Say Goodbye’ was an instant hit in his hometown of Sri Lanka in 2007; yet he left it all behind to make music in London. His debut music video in the UK, ‘Girls to my Right’ has peaked at a million hits on youtube within the first two months of release.

An upbeat pop/R&B track, it has been produced by Andy Whitmore, who himself has conquered the UK charts with hits including ‘Flava’ by Peter Andre and ‘Ladies Night’ by Atomic Kitten. Shehan also has a Twitter following of 112,000 fans. From Asia to the United Kingdom, Shehan’s journey has been a blend of experimentation, risks, hard work, and of course, great music.

Singer, dancer, songwriter, music producer… which hat do you wear best?

I started off as a singer and dancer. But being the perfectionist that I am, it was becoming more and more difficult to find a music producer who worked with the same high standards as I had set for myself. That motivated me to produce my own music. But now I’ve found Andy Whitmore, who’s perfect to work with; we’re so alike when it comes to how we think it’s almost as though we were separated at birth! I then tried song writing and it worked for me. That led to the next question: should I outsource my songs or instead hone my talent further? Now I’m dabbling with video directing too. I’ve come a long way since Say Goodbye and it’s because I wear all hats equally, I’ve nurtured all my singing, dancing, song writing and music producing skills throughout the past few years. All of these aspects are correlated and complement one another; I see the whole process as a package. I’m not saying I’m a Jack of all trades; I’m just enthusiastic when it comes to the whole procedure of making music.

You are a success in your home country, what made you want to break into the UK music scene?

While Sri Lanka gave me my first break, it also restricted me, The problem there was that if I wanted to release my music on TV stations, it had to be in Singhalese. And I think, write and sing in English. Even when Say Goodbye was released, I got a songwriter to translate it into Singhalese – well, everything except the chorus. It still became a huge hit, but it wasn’t the way I wanted to make songs. I thought: What am I doing fishing in a small boat in a lake, when I could be sailing in a yacht in a huge ocean? I wanted to take my music to a whole new level and reach a greater audience. I knew with hard work and determination, I could be successful, earn well in the music industry and have the satisfaction of doing what I really wanted to do here in the UK.

Did you consider the US market instead?

UK is like the hub when it comes to anything. It’s easier to spread my roots all over the world if I manage to conquer the UK market. I guess this is the stepping stone to the US.

You’ve never trained as a professional musician/singer, so how did you mould your talent?

I was five when I figured out that I could sing and dance. I remember practicing for hours and hours to songs on the radio as a kid whilst dancing to them. I covered every gamut, from high pitches to low ones, till I got it right. When it came to producing music, I researched various music producing softwares, read books and did everything a student of music would ideally have done by going to a school of music. The motivation to succeed and the enthusiasm spurred me on. It still does.

What inspires you when you’re writing songs?

I do things a little differently. I think of a title first, something that stands out from the norm, has never been used before and has a USP (Unique Selling Proposition). I then build on that. Once I come up with the title I would build a storyline to it by imagining how the music video would be. It’s like I have a movie playing in my head, and I brainstorm with lots of random rhyming words. Then I put them into sentences and try to sing the lyrics with an instrumental version of a selected track. I guess what inspires me to write lyrics is very good music.

How would you describe your music?

The genre is a mix of pop and R&B, but I use that more as a broad guideline to keep with the current musical trends. The essence of my music is dance and it’s upbeat. My next track will be out in January next year, and it perfectly sums up my trademark style of music.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

When I was a kid, it was Michael Jackson. But since I started making music, without sounding arrogant I would say that I influence myself. It’s the hard work that you put in that is your biggest influence. I read successful people’s biographies, people who have made it on their own through perseverance; their life-stories inspire me.

You’re dubbed the Usher of Sri Lanka; do you consider that a big compliment?

Really, I had no idea! Someone must have said that on Twitter… well, to answer your question, no, I would not take it as a compliment because Usher is Usher and Shehan Noel is Shehan Noel. I don’t want to be a shadow of somebody else, I want to be myself and make Shehan Noel a musical legacy. I want to offer something different, not be just another impersonator.

Tell us something about the current music scene in Sri Lanka. Is it still restrictive for English songs and musicians?

I’ve not been back to Sri Lanka for two years now; therefore I don’t get a chance to keep myself updated on what’s going on in the music industry back at home. But from conversations I have with people in the industry there, yes, to an extent, I think it still is.

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